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June 12, 1862: Upper Del Puerto Canyon

June 12, 2012

Del Puerto Canyon 06

Upper Del Puerto Canyon; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Camp 75

[Today], as it was desirable to get back into the mountains, and, this being a very favorable spot to try it, I resolved on a two days’ excursion to see what was beyond the outer ranges of hills and to get bearings to connect with back points from some of the higher ridges within, for marking localities on our maps. So Hoffmann, Averill, and I started on mules up the canyon for a ridge supposed to be fourteen miles in a direct line from camp.

We traveled hard all day and found on plotting our maps on returning that we had made less than ten miles in a direct line from camp. For six miles the creek breaks through very steep ridges from 1,000 to 2,500 feet high, all made up of strata of sandstone tilted up at an angle of fifty to seventy degrees. The western side of each hill was made by the broken edges of the strata, so they were very steep. The numerous rocky precipices made a picturesque but desolate landscape. The side canyons were generally dry, but sometimes had small streams or pools of bitter, alkaline water, and the rocks often looked as if covered with frost, from the alkali that exudes from them. I scraped off about a pound of alkali, in one place, to take for analysis. It is nearly white as snow and is a mixture apparently of carbonate of soda, salt, gypsum, and Epsom salts, of which the first named ingredient is the most abundant.

Sometimes the canyon is a mere gorge between high rocks, at others it widens out into pretty little valleys with grass (now dry as tinder) and scattered trees. We passed these sandstone ridges and got into the metamorphic region beyond, where the strata have all been roasted and changed by volcanic agencies and tossed about in grand confusion. Here we found decidedly a “hard road to travel,” among and over rocks, now up, now down—places were passed which you members of civilized countries would pronounce absolutely impassable. Indeed, Averill (who unfortunately does not hold out well in places of danger or difficulty) once wanted to turn back, but I shut him up quickly and kept on, and the rest followed. We found it impossible to reach the point we started for, so came to a halt, near night, at a convenient spot.

From the exceeding abundance of grizzly tracks, it was but natural to suppose that we might be visited in the night, so we slept “conveniently” near an easy tree to climb and built a bright fire. But I bet Hoffmann a keg of beer, to be drunk at the first place where it could be got, that we would neither hear nor see a bear in the night. We built a bright camp fire, and in our scanty blankets lay down beside it, our saddles for pillows, the clear sky above, and these rugged mountains about. You cannot appreciate the peculiar pleasure of sleeping thus, in such solitudes. The stillness seems almost deathlike, but I do enjoy it. Tired enough, we slept soundly. I only awoke once, to replenish the fire, for it was cold.

But our sound sleep won for me the beer, for we found large bear tracks within a hundred feet, or less, of us in the morning—he had passed during the night. It was light moon, when bears love most to roam, but all hunters unite in saying that it is the rarest thing in the world for a grizzly to seriously disturb a sleeping man. I have never heard of a man being thus attacked. They often come up and smell the man, but if he lies perfectly quiet he will not be molested. The difficulty is, to lie quiet while an animal more ferocious than the lion and stronger than the strongest ox is thus examining you. But our friend that night took no such liberties. He apparently passed down the canyon, stopped and turned around when near us, then passed on.

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